A Meadvale Boyhood

by John Alfred (Jack) Moore

I was born on the twenty-first of January, 1906, at Farringdon Road Buildings, Clerkenwell, near to Smithfield meat market. I believe I was almost three years old when we moved to Meadvale, Redhill, Surrey.  We lived first in a couple of rooms in a baker's place in the alley that ran from Somerset Road to Cronks Hill Road. The alleys that ran from Meadvale to opposite the hospital were called 'The Mount'. I can just remember that mice ran up the curtains and someone had a parrot or such like bird in a cage, because I used to poke a stick at it.  In London my Dad had worked for his uncle, who owned and ran Firby and Son, a firm in Little Britain, near St Bartholemew's hospital. The firm did copper plating amongst other things. In 1908 Dad had obtained a job in Brown's brickyard, which was situated a short distance from the bottom of Hardwick Road, Meadvale. I should think that the north part of Willow Road, the south part of Arbutus road and Juniper road are built on the old brickworks site. At the end of Hardwick road was a field with a few cows in it. To the south, in the field, were the clay pits where they obtained the clay for bricks, flower pots and, I believe, tiles. There was also a pond from where they obtained water for brick making and supplying the boilers for running steam driven machinery.
Me aged about two

The bakery where we lived in Somerset Road is on the left of this c1910 photo. It was almost opposite the Post Office seen on the right.

            My father was in charge of the steam engine, which was a solid affair secured firmly to the floor inside a timber and corrugated iron roofed building with a small upper floor. It wasn't an engine on wheels, it had a large driven flywheel about four feet in diameter onto which a wide leather drive belt could be attached; this drove a shaft to which auxiliary belts could be connected.  On one occasion, when my father was handling the belt on or off the driven wheel, he got caught up in it somehow and swung around the wheel and got his nose broken.  I think part of his clothing was trapped by the belt. He was very lucky not to have received a severe injury.
            My dad was the sole engineer and maintainer of the brickworks steam engine and associated machinery. He was paid twenty-seven shillings and sixpence for a full week's work; God knows how many hours a day that entailed.  In the winter the works could be shut down for some days or weeks, there was no pay then so the men had to work for anyone for some money.  I know my father went snow clearing.  He once worked on draining and clearing out the lower pond on Earlswood common.
            The bricks, when first made, were laid out in lines on wooden racks with wooden cloches over them.  Beyond the lines of racks was the brick-built pottery that housed several potters' wheels.  At the side, towards one end of the pottery, was the kiln.  Clay in the field was dug by men with spades.    
           Us local kids used to fish in the brickworks pond for Carp and Gudgeon; the pond was full of fish and tadpoles. With a long cane and catgut with a fishhook attached, using flour and water bait rolled into small balls, we could catch fish galore.  I fell in the pond several times before I could swim but always managed a dog paddle to the bank.  One fine summer's day I fell into the pond and got out again in the usual way.  My clothes were soaked so I lay them out on the grass to dry and played about naked.  Now there were paths through Brown's yard giving the right of way from Hardwick road to the common. Along one of them came a man who was a stranger to me. Seeing me naked he made some utterances and then came towards me, so I started into a run, and he chased me around the field at a fast pace for several minutes.  There was no one else about and the man finally gave up; I could have run for an hour or two. I never knew what it was all about. I suppose I was about seven years old.
            I remember fishing in the brickworks pond when my younger brother, Albert, was staying with us for a week. He lived permanently with my Aunt Annie in Keyworth street, Southwark, London. I had caught a small carp so I laid my fishing rod on the ground and was just unhooking the fish when Albert rushed forward to see. He caught his feet in my catgut fishing line and jerked the line hard and the fishhook went right into my finger. I could not get the hook out so I cut the line and ran all the way to Dr Freeman's house in West Street, Reigate (I loved running in those days). Fortunately he was at home and he removed the hook free of charge, for we could not afford to pay. That run must have been about one mile long, and part of it was up steep Cronks Hill.
            The brickworks pond was private property but the village children treated it almost as a common play area; we also ran all over the field and adjacent field as we pleased.  Mrs. Brown used to complain but we took no notice of her.
My brother Arthur outside 38 Hardwick Road, Meadvale in 1928.  In those days the road ended with a five-bar gate, beyond which was the brickworks.
           Just below the grass was clay to a depth of many feet.  In the summer the field was dotted with wasps nests in the clay soil. When we were older my brother Arthur and I, and others, used to light fires on top of the nests and then dig them out of the ground. The nests were full of the wasps' young grubs, called 'Gentiles'; the Gentiles were used for baiting fishhooks.
            It was during one of these occasions when we were smoking out the wasps when Albert got stung. If the smoke hadn't made the wasps completely drowsy they would fly out of their nest none too pleased about what was going on. Us experienced kids used to stand totally rigid, pretending to be trees, but Albert ran and the wasps caught him. He complained like hell that he had only been an onlooker and had not be involved in the smoking out, yet had been to one to suffer.
We had moved to a house at 38, Hardwick road, Meadvale when I was four. The house was owned by Charles Brown and Sons, the owners of the brickworks. It was one house in a row of six, all no doubt built on Brown's land adjacent to the cow and clay field. The rent must have been around four or five shillings a week then, which was 1910; in 1920 it was six shillings and six pence per week. The Browns lived in a big house set well back from Pendleton Road.
            Ours was a detached, brick built house, with two bedrooms upstairs, a front room and a living room, plus a stone floored scullery which housed a coal fired, brick built copper for boiling the washing, a wringer and a washing-up sink with cold water tap. A door in the scullery opened to a small room with a brick floor where we kept coal. Outside the scullery was a brick surfaced yard and a brick lavatory built as part of the house alongside the coal room. The access to the lavatory was from outside the house at the rear. Inside the living room was an iron, coal-fired cooking range. It was an open fronted fire with the oven on the side of it. The room lighting was by paraffin lamp and candle. The floorboards were bare wood. Sometimes hot coals tumbled from the fire onto the floorboards and left a burn mark. The cooking range stood on a stone or cement hearth. 

My mother in the back garden of 38 Hardwick Road c1930

           At the age of five years I went to the junior school in Meadvale (it's a private house now). For the first few days at school, each time I was let out to play I would run home, I used to think that my poor old mum must be lonely without me. We only had two teachers, an elderly head teacher, Mrs. Robinson, and a young assistant, Miss Peat (she died last year, 1988 or 87, over 90 years old). I can remember Miss Peat and a bunch of kids running after me down Hardwick road. I was wearing a sailor boy jumper with open neck front and a large square hanging on my back. It was made of linen or cotton and when I ran it flew out behind me. Miss Peat was just able to grab my flying collar and over I went. Miss Peat had a shiny new bicycle (which I admired as a toy I suppose). She said if I didn't run away from school any more I would be allowed to clean it, so I gave up running away and cleaned the bike.

Children assembled outside Meadvale Scoll in the early 1900s. The lady at centre back is Miss Peat

           I went to St John's school on the common when I left the Meadvale infants school. I was at St John's school during the 1914-18 war. As a consequence of the war there was a lack of male teachers. I seem to remember that there was a male headmaster, and I think his name was Mr. Jinks.  I learnt only to read and write and do a few simple sums, but I was always pleased to have got that much schooling. I left at about twelve-and-a-quarter years old for a nautical training school at Portishead, near Bristol. I learnt nothing there.
            I remember that as a child I had little clothing. I wore a pair of short trousers that came down to just above the knees, no underwear, a shirt sometimes, and a factory made jersey. I had socks and hobnailed boots; I never had anything else. I remember only ever having two toys, one of which was an iron hoop which I trolled along with a stick. At Christmas time I hung up a sock by the bed and sometimes I got an orange and a sixpence.
            I had a London Cockney accent and sometimes several Meadvale children would come up to me and demand I say 'house'. Of course I said '' 'ouse" which raised a laugh. 
           Several other incidents that occurred when I was a kid come to mind. There was a lovely private woods along the southern side of the brickworks, it was a part of the farm. I regularly played in there for a couple of years, then they put pigs in there; big sows and their piglets. In a way I resented their presence, being of a mind that it was my domain, not theirs. They were there though, the property of the local farmer I suppose, and there was little I could do about it. One day I went into the wood and right away came upon a big sow fast asleep with her piglets around her, so I sat upon her, grabbed her by both ears and dug my heels into her hind parts. She snorted, raised herself onto her feet and charged right into a huge blackberry thicket. The sow went clean through it - I was left entangled and scratched. I used to try to ride everything.
            On another occasion I went into the wood I walked along singing until I came by a big tree. Mr. Wright, the man who ran the farm, sprang out and grabbed me with one hand and shouted, "Gotcha!" In his other hand he held a double-barrelled shotgun. I was sure he was going to shoot me, in fact I was so scared that I peed myself. If I'd had the gun I'm sure I'd have shot him at that point. Fortunately he just gave me a good talking to and let me go. I suppose I was then about eight years old. I think I kept away from the wood after that.
            I think Mr Wright may have owned the farm, and not just run it, and Arthur once told me that it belonged to Mr Wright. I think there was a connection between him and the Mr Wright who had Wright and Co, the wholesale fruit merchants from Earlswood. One day, years later in 1941 a man came to Reigate fire station to hand in a box of fruit for the firemen there. I think that may have been Mr Wright.
            Us kids used to collect acorns and sell them to another farmer, Mr Constable, whose farm was on the south side of the road from the junction of Woodhatch and Pendleton Roads to the Angel. The ground is now covered by Brandsland, Vevers Road and Lynn Walk, all part of the housing estate built there in the 1950's.
That's me on the right with my arm about my brother Charlie. Although he was older than me I somehow manged to be the taller.
           Arthur and I would sometimes pull up the farmer's turnips, clean them on our clothes and eat them raw. We also ate raw carrots. When the farmer used to harvest the potatoes he would miss some, they either lay in view or were in the topsoil. We used to collect these and light a small fire in a secluded part of the field and put the potatoes in the very hot part. They got burned and blackened but we could eat the inner part. Sometimes it was a part of the farmer's fence that got pulled down and put on the fire.
           The youngest of us brothers, Sid, was born some time after Arthur, I used to wheel him around in a pushchair. The path up to the farm near the brickworks used to go up to slightly higher ground, and there was a hedge that went around the farm and divided Brown's from it. There was also a chestnut fence. In the brickworks the men had dug down quite a long way for the clay. I took Sid out of his pushchair and he tumbled down a thirty-foot embankment, rolling over and over down this slip, doing a hell of a lick by the time he hit the bottom where there were rubbish heaps of cinders and paper.
            Now unbeknown to me my father was at work not far away and had seen this happen. I went down to get Sid, wondering if he was alive or not. He was, so I took him back up to the top and was about to get over the chestnut fencing that was there when I was lifted up in the air, slapped round the backside, and thrown over the fence. When I landed on the other side I realised that it was my old man who'd done it, for letting Sid go down the hole.
My brother Sid was a very good sprinter. Here he is centre of the middle row in the 1923-24 St John's School athletics team, winners of the inter-schools shield..
           Other times I used to take Sid up to the top of Hardwick road. He would be sat in the pushchair, I'd be sat on the front and we could free wheel down the road making a noise. Mrs Dunstan used to complain about this. She used to offer me a ha'penny to go away and I used to insist on a penny.  A penny it would be and off I would go.
            I must not forget Miss Machin and her mother.  They lived in The Orchard House in Cronks Hill Road  They were what we called well off, having a maid and a gardener. They paid for us to have a bottle of milk each day for some time. They bought the big house opposite, which was empty and was called Torpa. It had a lovely big vegetable garden. I was offered part time work as a gardener's boy at a penny ha'penny an hour. I only got rid of a few weeds and the gardener would give me cabbage and fruit to take home. One day they gave me the job of cleaning out the chicken coop. I had to wash off the old whitewash, and as a result I got lots of fleas on my clothes. When I got home my mother would not let me in the house, making me strip off in the back yard. My clothes were shaken and hung on the line and I was washed down. I was ten years old, and a country bumpkin with a cockney accent. The Machins were lovely ladies, God bless them.
            The man who had previously lived in Torpa was from Sweden, I think, and was a director of the Swedish Match Company. Someone else from that company, the Match King I think, who lived in a big white house at the top of Reigate Hill that could be seen from a long way away (I went there once trying to sell vacuum cleaners, I think it was one of my failures) committed suicide by jumping from a plane flying across the English Channel; it was in all the papers.
           The land around those farms as far as the Mount and Redhill common used to belong to the Hayward family who lived in the big house that the Crusader Insurance Company took over. Now (1991/2) the Crusader has been taken over by an American company and the land is to be redeveloped.
            There were hardly any cars about when I was a boy; most of the transport was by horse and cart or carriage. I remember going over London Bridge on the top of an open topped horse drawn double-deck bus, sat on my dad's lap. Actually it's one of those 'remembered' memories; that's to say that I can't actually recall it clearly now but I remember being able to remember it. There were a few traction engines around, and they used to throw out a few nasty embers from their chimneys, I got caught alongside the eye with one once.
            Another boyhood incident centred about our hunt for pennies in the field near our house. I can't remember why they should have been there but I seem to recall that football was played in the field. What that had to do with pennies being there I can't for the life of me explain. Anyway, on this particular day Arthur and I went looking for these pennies and Arthur found three and I found none. To redress the situation I took the pennies from Arthur, which seemed fair enough to me as the oldest and biggest, but clearly not to Arthur for, as I was clambering over the chestnut palings of the fence at the bottom of our garden a half house brick thrown from almost point blank range hit me in the back of the head, making it bleed. I went up the garden to complain to Mum about this, unaware that she had seen me take the pennies away from Arthur.  I had just said; "Look what Arthur did," when she hit me over the head with the copper stick.
            Now life was taking a turn for the worse and flight seemed the best short-term solution. I remember that I shot around the side of the house, went straight across the road into the front garden of the children's home opposite and laid on their grass until I felt better about things.  No one would disturb me there.  In the first place the grass area had a hedge around it, and in the second place the women who worked at the home were frightened of me.    
I remember hitting one of the Risbridger boys over the head with half a house brick once. We used to gang up with them to have brick fights with other kids but this must have been an internal squabble. Arthur and I were engaged in this brick fight with the two of the Risbridger boys and I hid in a garden, Arthur being near our house. Jim Risbridger came along Hardwick Road towards Arthur on my side of the road. As he neared me he came crouching down on the other side of my hiding place behind a wall. I got up and threw a chunk of house-brick, which hit Jim on the head fair and square - well, square, anyway - and that was the end of that fight.
            I wrote earlier in these pages that I only remember ever having two toys; the other one was an air pistol that I won in a raffle. Someone in the village had owned this air pistol and decided to raffle it at a penny a time. I had a penny and decided to have a go, and some time later they came to me and told me I'd won the air gun and gave it to me.  I remember I shot a bird in a tree with that air gun. I was so moved by what I'd done that I regretted it deeply, and never shot at another bird. What I did do, however, was to hold up the butcher's boy. He was a great big feller, twice my size, and I said to him; "Hands up!". To my surprise he stopped and did just that. I hadn't meant him to react literally; I'd expected him to run and had been all for shooting him in the backside as he did so. There we were, face to face, me and this big, tall lad who could have knocked the stuffing out of me if it wasn't for the gun. I thought to myself; 'What the hell do I do now?' What I did was to point the gun and shoot him in the hand. The pellet didn't penetrate his skin but it hurt him much more so than if he'd been running away, with his clothes as added protection.
            The butcher's boy told his dad. He was big too; he used to slaughter the pigs in the butcher's shop yard. He came down to our house and carried on to my mum about me while I hovered close by in the garden, ready for flight over the fences, as the man had a stick. Eventually it all blew over, but to hold the boy up at all had been a
silly thing to do, let alone shoot him.
           We used to fight the Belgians who lived at the top of the copse. They were refugees who had come to this country after Belgium had been over-run in the war. I used to think, 'Bloody foreigners.' We used to get them to come down from the top of the copse, from where they lived in Reigate, down a steep, rutted track between the trees that was all worn away with the water that rushed down when it rained. The strategy was that in order for them to go back up again they would have to be more or less on their hands and knees, and I could give them a couple of pellets in the backside.
            What happened to the gun? Well, my elder brother, Charlie, came down for a day or two and we went into the wood and what was walking about in there was a nice big chicken, one of Brown's. I thought that this chicken was in no man's land in the woods, so I shot a couple of pellets at it, which only made the chicken make a lot of noise. Next I put the gun at the chicken's head and gave him another pellet, but that didn't have any extra effect so I tried to ring its neck. I was no more successful with that, as when I put the chicken down it got away.
            Anyway, where the gate opened between the two fields there was a deepish ditch, filled in at that point so you could walk through, with a pipe under for the water to run through. What does the chicken do but run up this pipe. I got a stick and we poked him out and caught him again. I couldn't kill it so Charlie suggested I hold the chicken's head against a tree in the wood while he hit it with the butt of the gun. This we did and it worked, except that the gun broke in two, so that was the end of the gun. Charlie was going back to London. He put the chicken on the back of his bike and cycled back with it. He said afterwards that it was a lovely chicken.
            There was another time when someone lost some chickens, and the police came around, but that time I was not guilty.
My father, Charles Moore, in uniform during WW1
The End
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